Master Qu Hai is a 9th generation Master of Taiji-Meihua Mantis, and a disciple of Li Kun Shan’s grandson, Zhang Bing Dou. He has practised Mantis since his early teens and is also a qualified Tui Na massage therapist and acupuncturist. He is headmaster of Shengjing Shan Traditional Kung Fu Academy.
Shifu, could you please talk about your experience learning kungfu:
“Well, when I was young, I was always interested in kungfu, and Shandong being the home of Mantis, it was only natural that I chose it. I began training in basics and forms with a local master, but he was very busy and so recommended I follow a master in Qingdao, Zhang Bing Dou.
We would train in the evenings in the master’s house, training was very slow and repetitive, we would get one move and just work that until he was happy, only then would he give us another one. Sometimes he would just send us home to work on one move and tell us to come back next month, then he would look at it and say its not good enough, go back and practice!
My master also wanted to test you, to see what kind of person you are. You have to have good character and strong resolve. He won’t tell you anything for a long time, just make you reapeat the move again and again, maybe after a period of time he will tell you what you’re doing wrong. You see, in kung fu, you must think for yourself, its not just about asking yor master for the answers all the time.
For the 1st year, I just worked on basics, then forms. Later, I learnt pair practice, weapons and Qigong. Forms are very important and must be done with intent, it’s the intent that seperates kungfu from mere wushu. We would take a single move from the form and repeat it over and over again. If we didn’t understand an application, the master would make us spar, just using this one move. We never had mats on the ground or gloves like you guys, but you can’t be afraid of being hit. Forms and fighting are interconnected, there is a saying, “Fight like you’re doing a form, do a form like you’re fighting.” This is very important.
Shifu, how did you come to learn Bagua?
After studying Mantis for a long time and having a high level, I felt like I wanted to broaden my horizons. I began to meet with people from other styles to exchange ideas with them. I took an interest in Wuxing, Tongbei and Yiquan. Later, I began to read about Bagua. After contacting a master named Wang Shang Zhi on the internet, I travelled to Beijing to meet him. We met in a park and discussed kungfu. I felt that he was really skilled and had a very deep understanding of the art, and I really liked his kungfu. So I spent three years living in his home studying Yin style Bagua.
Master Wang made and sold Redwood furniture, sometimes I would even help out with his work. When we trained, I was often paired up with a huge guy who was very strong. I had to use my brain and be clever about how I fought. I couldn’t defeat him with brute force, I had to think my way round him. Our master focused a lot on paired practice and feeling the opponent. We learnt through doing and feeling, rather than explanations, the point was that if you got hit, you learnt something. Maybe your guard was down, maybe you weren’t concentrating, but after being hit you learn not to do it again, slowly but surely you would begin to improve.
There is much talk about the differences between internal and external kungfu, what are your thoughts?
Actually there is no difference really. You must have internal and external together; power comes from correct body mechanics as well as intent. When you practice forms, you must have the intent of fighting, you can’t just do the movements. You must imagine there is an opponent, make your movements fast and flow together. In a fight you don’t stop after each punch, the same must be said for forms.
You can do three or four movements within one body movement; this is real kungfu. It’s not step 1, step 2, step 3, like you might see in the magazines, this is just a beginners level. You have to combine your muscular power with your internal intent (your energy, your breath, your focus). Take Taichi for example, most people think it’s soft and powerless, in fact real Taichi training is tough and has high demans for power training. All kungfu is the same, you need a strong body to generate power, but you need a focussed mind to use it.
Shifu, I find it difficult to explain Mantis to people, it’s quite an eclectic style, how would you describe it?
Well, basically, Mantis takes the principles of how a Praying Mantis will catch its prey as its foundation. As Mantis was created quite late in the history of Chinese Kung Fu, it was able to integrate the strong points of other styles to add to its foundation. It is heavily influenced by Chang Quan (Long Fist) Tong Bei Quan, Taichi, as well as many others. The body must move as a whole, using circular movements, half circles and spirals, as well as the unity of opposites, such as forward and backwards, opening and closing etc.
And what about the differences between the branches?
In fact, in the beginning, there was no separtion of the different branches. Liu He (6 harmonies) mantis was created fairly early, it has a different syllabus to the other branches. Qi Xing (7 stars) and Taiji separated much later, and in fact the similarities are greater than the differences. Taiji and Meihua are stylistically pretty much the same, its only personal preferences as to the name used. Qi Xing mantis uses the principle that certain body parts relate to the 7 stars of the “Big Dipper” (constellation), and that they should move in union. Taiji on the other hand, uses the principles of Yin and Yang, or opposites as its core principle. Left and right, forward and backward; in this fashion the body moves harmoniously and generates the most power. Meihua tends to refer to the way in which one uses their hands and their footwork, moving in a manner similar to a plum blossom, thus attacking the opponent from different sides. All the styles have long and short, hard and soft elements and so to a certain extent the principles are the same. It’s just like if I teach 5 of you, you will have Will mantis, Eric mantis, etc, you all learn the same principles but express your individual characteristics.
Shifu, how did you come to learn Chinese medicine?
In fact, my first master suffered from a bad lower back, so I wanted to learn massage to help him. Later, my interest grew and I saw how deep it was. Therefore I decided to go to Jinan and later to Beijing to gain my qualification in Chinese medicine.
Finally, Shifu, can you tell me what you think the benefits of Mantis are?
Well, it can harmonise the body; kungfu exercises your body as a whole. Not only that, but it is good for self-defence, health preservation and making your body and spirit stronger. It can help you become a better person as the training slowly improves your heart and your mind. The implications of which will mean you have the tools to face whatever challenges life throws at you with a peaceful and calm demeanour. Finally it will help you to manage any stresses or worries you might have, whilst giving you more confidence throughout your day-to-day life.
[Original interview by Will- be sure to check out his website for more in depth discussions on kung fu and his experieces as a travelling martial artist in China: http://www.monkeystealspeach.co.uk/about-me.php]